Checklist: What to bring, what to wear and how to act at a dispensary

Airfield Supply Co. in San Jose awaits new visitors.
Airfield Supply Co. in San Jose awaits new visitors.

Millions of Californians and visitors can now buy legal recreational cannabis in a store in the New Year  — but how exactly do you do it? What do you bring? What should you wear? How should you act? 

To shop for cannabis, you’ll need:

  • An address of a licensed store. Use GreenState’s map to find the location of the few cannabis stores open to all adults 21 or older beginning Jan. 1, 2018. Do not go to your nearest medical cannabis dispensary without calling ahead; chances are they can’t let in recreational users yet.
  • A valid form of identification. Just as you need ID to get into a bar, you need a valid California driver’s license or passport. Valid licenses from other states will work, too. What doesn’t work? Expired licenses or non-standard identifications like your college ID or gym membership card.
  • Cash. You might have heard that cannabis businesses have trouble accessing the U.S. banking system. That means cash is king, on-site ATM fees are steep and places that take debit or credit cards are rare. Pull out at least $60 to sample a few things. Better yet, pull out $200 and stock up.
  • Warm clothes. It’s going to be cool throughout the state in the early morning on New Year’s Day and you could be stuck outside waiting in a long line. Wear warm socks and a beanie. Other than that, people dress pretty casual for trips to dispensaries — on par with a trip to the bank or grocery store. No one’s going to look at you weird if you’re in an Armani suit or a suit of cannabis flowers. For extra style points, wear a vintage legalization pin.
  • Patience and something to read. You might be surprised to learn that most dispensaries don’t let you use cell phones inside. That’s because they are medical facilities (people are entitled to their privacy), and stores are concerned about security. They also don’t want you taking text orders from buddies in the parking lot. Assume you won’t be able to use your phone while waiting in store and bring something printed on paper to read as you wait your turn.

Etiquette: How to play nice inside a dispensary

  • Generally put phones away. Act like you’ve been there before. No selfies. No Facebook Live. Other patrons might not want to be part of your public feed; respect others’ privacy.
  • Observe normal decorum. Be polite, quiet and keep to yourself — just like at any other retail store. Smiles go a long way with the dispensary cashier (called a “budtender”). They deal with sick people all day.
  • Ask the dispensary cashier (called a “budtender”) as many questions as you have. Budtenders get them all the time and they should have rehearsed advice for you. There are no dumb questions. For advanced consumers, ask budtenders what they are currently enjoying. They love to share. Ask them to “show me your fire,” slang for the best, most potent cannabis flowers.
  • Be patient. Checking into a dispensary can be a little like checking into a restaurant. They want your name. They’re going to ask you to stand in line and wait. There’s generally no drive-thru or express lanes. If you need to pop in and out, launch day is not the day.

Return to reading the California cannabis legalization launch guide main page

Cannabis Editor |? | San Francisco Chronicle. Award-winning journalist. Best-selling author.